September 23, 2014 – Deliver the Goods
The hands were interesting Sunday night, and the card play was mostly at a very high level. I can’t say the same for the bidding, which was a bit off, but, since I tend to focus on card play, I was quite pleased.
Let’s start off with a very simple play problem –
Playing in a pair game, you bid to your cold four spade contract, and the defenders lead two rounds of diamonds. How should you play to land an overtrick?
Five is there if you can win three heart tricks. That is easy if hearts are three-three. Even if they are four-two, you can make five if East holds the heart king, provided you handle your entries carefully. You should trump this high, and lead a high spade to the nine or king, guarding your deuce for later. Now lead a heart to the queen. If that wins, play another high trump to the table, and another heart, with the spade four as a re-entry to dummy, assuming trumps are 2-1.
What if the heart queen loses to the king? Simple, win the heart return, say, in hand, cash the club ace, and run trumps. You’ll make five if hearts split, or if West started with four hearts and the club king. West will be squeezed in this ending, when you lead the last trump:
As a bonus, you get to come down to all twos at the very end.
At the table, the hand got more complicated. North-South were vulnerable, and the auction proceeded:
What should South bid over five diamonds?
Well, South has plenty of extra offense, with a seventh spade and a singleton diamond, and, even though partner suggested defending, South has to consider trying for eleven tricks in spades. So, double is certainly out. The way to suggest extra offense is to pass the decision around to partner. North will know you want to bid on, and will likely do the right thing.
Here, though, South bid five spades, which ended the auction. West led the diamond five, and, as dummy appeared, that decision looked to be wrong. No doubt, East will win and shift to a club, setting up the second trick for the defense, so the contract will hinge on the heart finesse, a finesse that rates to lose.
However, South got an unexpected reprieve. East won the diamond ace, and returned the diamond two. How would you play now?
Why didn’t East lead a club? Almost certainly, East holds the club king, and, given the five club bid, that king rates to be singleton or doubleton. This inference seems to be confirmed by that suit-preference diamond deuce return. The full hand likely looks something like this:
Declarer, reading the cards well, found a line of play that would need no splits, or finesses. South ruffed, drew trumps, played the club ace, and ducked a club to East’s blank king, setting up a club winner, and endplaying East as well. Nicely played, except, the full hand was actually
Notice, with the club jack and ten dropping, a club shift at trick two might not set the hand (but, if West wins, and plays a heart, declarer had better guess well). The off-beat five club call, and East’s sneaky deception, however, talked South into a fine, but losing play.
Hands like this really please an old mentor – excellent card reading and declarer play by South, foiled by and even better defensive effort. Wow!
That fine card-reading continued with this hand:
No one vulnerable, the auction went:
West leads the diamond jack, to the ace, six, and five. Plan your play.
Assuming normal trump splits, you have five heart winners, three diamonds, and the spade ace. Nine. The tenth trick can come from either spades or clubs. Let’s project the play a bit. Suppose we draw two rounds of trumps, with both following. When we go back to dummy, we could discard spades, and hope the club ace is onside, or discard clubs, and hope spades develop another trick. Which is more likely?
Well, we will be mostly leading spades out of our hand, so developing another spade winner will be pretty tough unless the spades are friendly. My rough calculations suggest that spades will behave around half the time, much like a club finesse. However, clubs were the unbid suit, and yet West led a diamond. Why? Chances are very, very high that West holds the club ace, so playing on spades is vastly superior.
At the table, declarer drew that same inference, and cashed two top trumps, crossed to the spade ace, threw clubs on the high diamonds, and then led the spade six. What should South play from hand if East follows low?
That’s easy, South should play the spade jack next. It won’t matter if the suit is 3-3, but if East started with four spades, South can never pick up an extra trick unless West started with a doubleton ten.
By the way, could South make the hand if the spades were like this:
Maybe, but not after playing a spade to the ace. To make the contract with this sort of spade layout, declarer would have to discard the clubs immediately, and start spades at trick four, before touching trumps. Spade six to the three, eight, and queen, then, eventually, spade ace, spade toward the jack. However, this risks someone trumping a diamond early, with a doubleton trump, or East leading a diamond through, and promoting a second trump trick. The line chosen at the table seems quite good to me.
The full hand was:
So, throwing clubs immediately, or later, meant +420.
One final point – at trick one, East, trying to show strong spades, played the diamond nine. That was a very poor play, and violates the first rule of signaling:
Never signal with a card that may be worth a trick later!
Picture South holding a second diamond. Now, that diamond nine signal would let North win four diamond tricks, not three.
Great fun, and great play, so far, but I can’t really go a whole session without griping. My last exhibit was pretty bad all around. With East-West vulnerable, you wind up in four hearts, after this auction:
West leads the spade queen, and you see this:
First gripe: That four heart call was quite bad. North didn’t promise four hearts for a take-out double. South should simply cue-bid 3D. If partner bids 3S or 3NT, you will play in notrump, not hearts.
Anyway, South overtakes the spade queen with the ace, and shifts to the club jack. What do you know about the hand? Plan the play.
Well, West has opened 2D, at unfavorable, with a pretty bad suit, but will have at least six of them. East, with no diamond fit, and hearing a take-out double, still introduced spades. That would be quite crazy with only five spades, so spades (and diamonds) are splitting six-one.
Could diamonds be 7-0? Maybe, given the bidding, but then, East would let the spade queen win, to get a diamond ruff.
In the mean-time, we seem to have four trump winners, two clubs, and two diamonds, and need two more. We could give up another spade, and trump one spade in hand – winner number nine, but trumping the last spade with our eight might not succeed.
That club jack shift is quite odd. East could be messing around a bit with the club jack and queen, or, maybe West has lots of clubs as well. Here is a possible hand, consistent with the auction and play:
Okay, suppose we win the club, and start on trumps. When West shows out on the second trump, this shape will be quite likely. Still, the play is not too hard from here. Give up a spade, win the club, cross to the diamond ace, trump a spade, and draw trumps. West will have to keep the diamond queen protected, and so must pitch two clubs. The ending will be:
North simply exits with a club. That looks pretty good. So, you win the club, and start on trumps, but both follow to the trump ace and king. So, West is not 6-5. Does that change your plans?
Yes! The hand is trivial now. Simply draw the last trump, with the jack, and lead your other red jack. West will likely cover, but you win the ace, and pass the diamond eight to West’s ten. That sets up your nine of diamonds for trick ten. This play guarantees the contract, unless, by some absolute miracle, East holds the diamond queen.
Here was the full hand:
South did win the club, and cashed two high hearts, yet still managed to go down. Not good.
And not done griping yet. With diamonds 7-0, the hand was easy to set. East should play the spade jack under the queen, get a diamond ruff, and the defense will score two more ruffs. Bad East. Of course, four hearts, played by North, would almost certainly make, yet another reason to hate that four heart call by South. Finally, there is that opening bid. Yecch! Red-on-white preempts should be primarily constructive. High-level saves aren’t going to happen, so you bid, hoping to describe your hand, and help partner bid a good game. Four hearts never came close to making at any other table. Only our South was graced with the knowledge that West held strong diamonds. At several tables, the defense played spades, with South trumping the third spade high. When the trump nine fell, declarers could claim – spade ruff with the eight, diamond to the ace, draw the last trump. But that diamond was ruffed!
Even worse, if you preempt on hands like this, how is partner supposed to bid games when you have your bid? Later in the set, again at unfavorable vulnerability, East opened 2H on
But West, picturing a hand like that 2D opener, didn’t bid enough, and missed a baby vulnerable game.
You can be quite crazy white-on-red, but, when the colors are reversed, deliver the goods!